At the end of Part 2, Cambridge University science student Claire Keighley accidentally brought Professor Chronitis back from the dead by discovering and activating the controls for the Tardis that is his room at St. Cedd’s College.
Once he’s explained that much to her–not that she understands everything he’s saying about their present state of timelessness, he tells her:
“We must find Skagra. He has the book.”
Fortunately, Claire does know about the book, so this part isn’t completely bewildering to her. Chronotis continues to explain the situation:
Shada is the Time Lord’s prison planet, but they are conditioned to forget about it–which was why the Doctor couldn’t remember its name when he was talking about Salyavin earlier, but he knew what the name meant when he heard the professor’s dying words.
The book is the literally the key to Shada. It’s what you use to access it.
If Skagra is working with mind transference, says the professor, then he can only be going to Shada for one reason. The prisoner he wants is that Salyavin we’ve already heard about. He must be stopped.
Chronotis then boosts Claire’s intellect by entering her mind and “rearranging things,” as she later describes it, so she knows enough to help him get out of this timeless state and go after Skagra.
Over on his magnificent cartoon command ship, Skagra is explaining this to Romana. As they’re talking, he realizes that the Gallifreyan code the book is written in would have to have reference to Time, and he goes looking back through the Doctor’s memories for his last mention of Time.
At last, he breaks the code. Time runs backwards for the book, and the Tardis is of use in unwinding it.
The Doctor and Chris*, meanwhile, start out in cartoon form on the little transport ship, until they arrive back on that larger ship which we saw at the opening. The exterior of the ship is also shown up close in some nice model work.
Chris says they’ve traveled light years, so I was wrong and the red star isn’t meant to be Sol.
K9 zaps one of Skagra’s monster guards, which the Doctor identifies as a Krog–a sort of crystalline structure like that giant snowflake that menaced planets on Star Trek TNG. K9 holds the beastie at bay while the Doctor and Chris explore the ship.
This is one scene that actually looks much cooler in cartoon form than live action.**
They soon find that room where we first saw Skagra and the other men sitting. The Doctor describes this as a think tank.
The other men, who we might reasonably have assumed dead at the beginning, are still there but now very old and looking like a cosplay collection of the Monty Python “It’s…” Man.
The Doctor puts one of them back into a seat on that circular chair and borrows a bit of Chris’s memory reserves to help recover the man’s mind so they can ask him what happened.
The man explains that they were all the great intellects of their generation. Skagra, as it turns out, holds doctorates in a wide variety of field including genetics, astro-engineering, cybernetics, neuroscience, and theology. He recruited all the others for his think tank to pool their mental resources. But it was a trick; via mind transference to that little silver sphere, he effectively stole their brains and left them drained and mindless husks.
Skagra wants all of humanity’s minds for the same purpose. For reasons not yet made clear, he needs Salyavin to accomplish this. The Doctor still doesn’t know where Skagra has gone with the Tardis and Romana, so for once we’re way ahead of him.
The Krog, which looks like it absorbed all the energy from K9’s nose-laser, bursts in at this point and goes on a brief rampage that ends with the whole ship blowing up and the mind-drained men at last dead. But what of our heroes?
Over on his command ship, Skagra is busy making more Krogs. Once he’s informed that they have enough, he announces that he’s ready to begin. They’re on their way to Shada.
Romana looks worried at this news… but suddenly the Doctpr and Chris are standing right there beside her. A surviving Krog from the exploding ship brought them along when it transported out. Skagra is surprised to see the Doctor still alive.
The Doctor laughs when Skagra mentions his “great purpose”; he thinks it’s to own or rule the universe, which as he points out is a ridiculous ambition. But that’s not what Skagra is after.
With the aid of his spheres, he means “to fulfill the evolutionary goal of all life…”–to merge all of creation into one entity. “The universe shall not be mine. The universe shall be me.”
The Doctor and Chris run off in an attempt to get to the Tardis, but they are pursued by one of the Krogs. Romana is still held by one of the others. Eventually, they get trapped in a dead-end corridor, when they think they hear the Tardis’s familiar wheezing groan; the Doctor notes that it sounds a little off the usual. They see what looks like a wooden door in the wall.
“Get in!” the Doctor cries.
And they do. This is a fun little moment. They were cartoons out in the corridor, but when they go through the door, they’re suddenly back in live action and in Chronotis’s Tardis. (Although I notice that the ship’s wall outside the door is a different color and pattern from the bright magenta-lit corridors we’ve seen in the animated scenes.)
The professor offers them a cup of tea before they bring each other up to date on what’s going on.
It’s here we finally get the reason why Skagra needs Salyavin to launch his plan. Salyavin had the ability to project his mind into other people’s minds. Skagra is doing the opposite; has the power to take minds out of people, but can’t put minds back into them. Once he absorbs Salyavin’s mind and ability, he can put his own mind into everybody.
Over in the Tardis, Skagra still has Romana prisoner and he’s reading from the book to unlock the key to Shada. Off they go!
When Chronotis says that he found Skagra’s ship by following the Tardis’s time track, the Doctor realizes they can do this again to follow Skagra to Shada. Off they go too.
Shada looks like an office building with adjactent domed greenhouse wedged into the crevasse of an asteroid that looks rather like the head of an enormous space creature, as if the prison is held in the creature’s mouth.
Once on Shada, Skagra quickly locates Salyavin’s cryogenic cell and he takes Romana to it. Along the way, he opens some of the other cells first. The other criminals are thawed out and wandering about by the time Chronotis, the Doctor, et al also arrive.
Skagra is about to open Salyavin’s cell when Doctor catches up with him and tries to stop him. He doesn’t suceed, but the cell, when Skagra opens it, is empty.
Where is Salyavin?
The viewer has probably already guessed the truth about Salyavin. The Doctor didn’t. Nor, oddly enough, did Skagra.
If you zap one of the floating silver spheres, as K9 does, it only reforms into several others. These attach themselves to Chronotis, the criminals, and Chris. The Doctor, Romana, and Claire hastily retreat to Chronotis’s Tardis and the Doctor tries to come up with a plan against a villain who seems nearly unbeatable.
It’s Romana, who really hasn’t had much to do so far except be a prisoner and exposition recipient, who reminds the Doctor that his own mind is already copied into the spheres.
This gives him an idea. It’s tricky and dangerous, but it just might work!
It involves creating a corridor between the two Tardises in flight so the Doctor can crawl through from one to the other. He ends up in the Tardis’s junk room; through Romana’s and Claire’s efforts on the other Tardis, they follow and all of them end up back on Skagra’s command ship for a sneak attack on Skagra and the exciting final confrontation.
Well, the Doctor is successful and everything’s put right in the end: Skagra gets his comeuppance, the prisoners are returned to Shada, and everybody gets their minds back (apart from those think-tank men who blew up).
Everyone’s having a last cup of tea in Chronotis’s room, restored to its place at St. Cedds, when the porter brings a policeman around to show him where the room was stolen. The officer is naturally interested in the police box parked in the corner, and the Doctor and Romana take this opportunity to head off for their next adventure.
I think that the show as originally written was meant to end with this scene, but this version goes on to show us a conversation between the two Time Lords as the Doctor repairs his Tardis. We only see his legs sticking out from under the control console.
Romana, speaking from somewhere off set, observes that Professor Chronotis “seemed like such a nice old man.”
The Doctor comes out from under the console and stands up. Not Tom Baker in 1978. Tom Baker in 2017. He replies that in about 200 years, someone might say the same thing about him.
It’s a charming note to conclude an entertaining story. As usual with Douglas Adams’s work, the dialog is clever, witty, and often very silly. While I have trouble with the look of the animated characters, some of the artwork in other respects is nice. I especially like the scenes aboard the command ship. I’m pleased I’ve finally gotten to see this lost episode of Doctor Who.
The BluRay set has some good extra features: commentary tracks with some of the story’s actors and production team, information about the animated restoration, a Then and Now look at the Cambridge locations used in the show, and an interesting documentary about how strikes of BBC staff had an effect on this and other episodes of Doctor Who going back to Patrick Troughton’s day.
*Throughout the story, the Doctor consistently addresses Chris as “Bristol”. This is Tom Baker’s little personal joke; actor Daniel Hill was from Bristol.
**Not least because it looks like K9 is zapping the poor creature in the crotch.